The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

I hate these bugs.

This morning I was moping because it’s warming up outside but there are still no bugs.  “Where are the bugs?”, I lamented. 

The thing is, there ARE bugs.  Gabillions of them.  They’re just not the kind I really care for. 

You see, every spring our house gets invaded.  Look at our laundry room window.  Just look at it.

@#$%^ flies. They all suffered Death By Vacuum 30 seconds later.

Those black dots on the window pane  are ALL flies.  Cluster flies (Pollenia sp.; Calliphoridae) to be precise. 

I remember when we were house-hunting 6 years ago. One home (just the next road over from where we eventually settled) had a dozen or so flies in the bathroom, including – horror! – a couple of dead ones on the window sill.  At the time I thought, “What kind of unsanitary place IS this?  What unspeakable things must lurk in the walls, under the sink??” 

What can I say? I was a city girl. Now I know that, if you live in the country, all it takes to have cluster flies in your house is…a house.  With, like, walls and stuff.  That’s about it. 

These little buggers like to hibernate in large clusters (hence the name) in sheltered places, like in my attic and between my walls.  As spring approaches, they warm up enough to slither through any little crack or crevice around baseboards, windows, light fixtures etc.  Then they have big crazy parties on the windows. Then I take ferocious pleasure in vacuuming all the little #$%^s up.   The survivors spend all night noisily bashing their little brains out against the window in the bedroom, or on the reading lamps.  The cats sometimes catch and eat them.  That makes me happy.

Those flies which are either kind or clever enough to slither back outside instead have big crazy parties on the siding of the house.

Siding party.

"S'up, dude?" "Not much. Just, like, clustering." "Sweet, me too."

 About the only nice things I can say about these flies it that they are not germy nor do they harass us while we eat. They are only interested in what lies beneath the surface of the still-brown lawn: earthworms.

Fly on the lawn. I hope it gets entangled in those dog hairs and never escapes.

Unlike most Caliphorid flies (blow flies),which are attracted to dead and decaying organic material, cluster flies are strictly earthworm parasites.  It’s one of the reasons they’re so abundant in rural areas; the vast expanses of fields and other green space makes it easy to support large populations of flies.  The flies mate in the spring, and eggs are deposited in dense surface vegetation (our snow-squished lawn seems to work well for them). Larvae burrow into the soil after hatching, then attack their earthworm hosts, burrowing into their bodies.   Adults emerge from the soil after pupation; several generations can take place during one summer, depending on the region.

It's mocking me.

There’s really nothing to be done about cluster flies, other than try to seal all entry points (clearly I’m doin it rong), and vacuum them up when they get in.  

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18 responses to “I hate these bugs.

  1. dragonflywoman April 3, 2011 at 1:45 PM

    I love this post! It amused me greatly, especially the two flies talking to each other on the siding. 🙂 Sorry you get a ton of them in your house though.

    • TGIQ April 4, 2011 at 5:21 PM

      It’s either laugh or cry, DFW, laugh or cry. (I do a little of each, but I’m glad you were amused! :-P)

      • dragonflywoman April 5, 2011 at 12:03 AM

        Oh, I totally understand! My house is being absolutely overrun with insects (I blogged about them a few weeks ago) and I feel the same way about the damned ants. I find that imagining conversations like the one you proposed makes them much more tolerable. 🙂

        • TGIQ April 6, 2011 at 10:49 AM

          Yeah, I saw your little infestation there…we had a small army of ants last summer, such a pain! Baking soda and powdered sugar did the trick for us that time.

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  3. Warren April 3, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    Great post! It left me with a question: how do the larvae find the worms? The Wikipedia article, which is one of the best bug articles I’ve ever read on The Wik, said the larvae follow worm holes until they meet a worm, which they are prompted to penetrate by chemical cues. Other stuff I learned:

    – the invasive Pollenia feed on invasive earthworms
    – the flies are infected by a fungus that makes them crawl to a high point and lie spread-eagled while the fungus ejects its spores. The fungus is inhibited by high temperature, which may be (partly) why flies bask in the sun
    – “more than one larva can penetrate a worm” (a gang bang – an everyday thing, but still fun), “two or more larvae can share a penetration site” (a double penetration (yawn), or a multiple penetration (spectacular and dangerous!), and “once the host worm begins to decompose, the larvae move to a less decomposed section further down” (extreme necrophilia – triple point score!)
    – “larvae must penetrate a worm within three days in order to survive” – pffff, I can go YEARS
    – while they’re not germy, adults do eat shit, and large numbers of flies can be a source of opportunistic pathogens … but our own bodies are more important in this context

    In other news, I’ll be teaching a course in procrastination, whose credit value will be, ummm, I haven’t decided yet. Classes will be held – well, I still have to figure that out. It’s on my list!

    • TGIQ April 4, 2011 at 5:24 PM

      Thanks for the extra (albeit pervy) insight on these jerk-bugs. 😛 I’ll have to check out the wiki article in its entirety…
      Do let me know about that procrastination course. Maybe I could do a guest lecture? I should be working right now….

  4. Warren April 3, 2011 at 3:01 PM

    I guess that yawn should end in a double bracket

  5. Morgan Jackson April 4, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    I’d say there’s nothing wrong with a little Diptera Decoration on your walls and windows! 🙂

    (And may I say that your photos are awesome? The flies on the siding are perfect!)

    • TGIQ April 4, 2011 at 5:25 PM

      You WOULD say that, wouldn’t you? Yeesh, you fly guys…

      (Oh, but the second part was ok to say, I hope I didn’t confuse you there. Thanks! :-))

  6. mthew April 5, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    But consider the bright side: they’re earthworm parasites. In Canada, all your earthworms are post-glacial imports originally from Europe; in hardwood forests, they’re a slow disaster.

  7. tim eisele April 8, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    Another plus: if one catches a wolf spider in the spring to keep as a pet (or is raising baby tarantulas), these make a very handy early-spring food source for them.

  8. Clive Hicks-Jenkins April 16, 2011 at 2:53 AM

    When we first moved into this big old historic house in rural Wales, I wondered why there were so many dead flies everywhere. Of course they were cluster flies that having got in, were not able to easily get out again. Our first years here they drove me crazy. Before I knew their life cycle, I thought that we had an Amityville Horror of an infestation. Guests were traumatised when having gone to bed in a fly-free room, they awoke to windows seething with them. I hated the way the flies emerged as the heating kicked in, especially at night, racketing about my head as I tried to sleep. Eventually I learned the vacuum cleaner trick, though as a life-long vegetarian I really hate killing anything. I also wrecked the Dyson in the process. Those cluster flies are greasy little beggars when they get liquidised through the machine, and the dust chamber is a horror to clean afterwards.

    Restoring the Georgian sash windows has improved things quite a lot, though historic sash windows, no matter how well restored, are never going to be cluster fly-proof. But like all the other insects and country dwellers that share our home… we have field mice that come in out of the cold for Winter and 300 + pipistrelle bats live in our attic… I’ve learned not to be as upset by the flies as I once was. You get used to anything in the end, and although, unlike the bats, I have no affection for them, it helps to know their life-cycle. Always more engaging to understand who the invaders are, than to be ignorant and to live in dread. Now when they appear I just roll my eyes and think “Well here we go again! Fly soup!”

    • TGIQ April 19, 2011 at 6:10 PM

      Oh, Clive, you’re speaking my language here. You know EXACTLY what it’s like! We’ve caulked and sealed as best we could, but they still come in…along with the Asian Lady Beetles (which I also hate, btw). You do get used to them, I suppose, although every spring I have at least one freakout, it seems, where I get all crazy-like with the vacuum. Of course, the fly-free-ness only lasts for an hour or two 😛 Oh well, at least they abandon ship once things warm up outside.

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